President Barack Obama on Wednesday challenged Republicans to pass a bill declaring his immigration executive action illegal and then vowed to veto it while at a town hall where he also exhorted young people to vote and predicted a Latino or Asian American would one day be in the White House.
Obama spent about an hour discussing immigration at the bilingual town hall hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo on the Florida International University campus.
Early in the discussion, he criticized Republicans for “trying to hold hostage” Department of Homeland Security funding in a political fight over his use of executive powers to shield millions of immigrants from deportation.
With DHS funding due to run out Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to separate the DHS funding issue from a vote on repealing Obama’s executive action.
“If McConnell, the leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the House John Boehner want to have a vote on whether what I’m doing is legal or not, they can have that vote. I will veto that vote,” Obama said drawing applause in an audience of immigrants, activists, students and immigrant advocates.
Obama spent much of the discussion, which was taped before being shown on Telemundo at 7 p.m. and MSNBC on 8 p.m. Wednesday night, championing the actions he has taken. This included explaining why more immigrants could not qualify in the deportation protection provided.
He repeatedly reminded attendees his action was a short-term solution and urged the audience to keep pressure on Congress, particularly Republicans, and to pass immigration reform legislation. He encouraged attendees to grill 2016 candidates, making their first question to candidates when they come looking for votes to be: "Do you really intend to deport 11 million people?"
Obama rejected accusations that he failed to act to get immigration done early in his administration while Democrats controlled Congress. He got a little piqued when a member of the public accused Democrats and Republicans of playing “political ping pong” with immigration.
"If McConnell, the leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the House John Boehner want to have a vote on whether what I’m doing is legal or not, they can have that vote. I will veto that vote."
"That’s just not true … Democrats have consistently stood on the side of comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats have provided strong majorities across the board of comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. Suggesting no one was focused on the issue, said Obama, was a “disservice” because "then you don’t know who is fighting for you and who is fighting against you."
The president suggested Americans, particularly young people, who fail to vote have to shoulder some of the blame for the lack of progress on immigration. Two-thirds of eligible voters stayed home in the last election, he said.
“I’m willing to be that there are young people who have family members who are at risk of the existing immigration system who did not vote. So, my question, not just to the immigrant community, but the country as a whole, is why are you staying at home? Why are you not participating?” he said.
But he also predicted that the immigration issue would eventually be solved “because at some point there is going to be a President Rodriguez or Chin,” Obama said to applause.
Obama took questions from three audience members who spoke of their individual cases including some whose family members were at risk of being deported. Obama said he has expanded his executive authority as much as he legally could and including any more immigrants than he has in his executive action would be ignoring the law and then opponents would have a case.
"Do you really intend to deport 11 million people?"
He said some immigration officers fail to follow policies and when they do, there should be consequences in the same way members of the military are held accountable when they fail to follow orders.